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May 26, 2020

Jamie Taylor/River News

This Friday, March 6 file photo depicts the exterior of the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport with a sign for the UW Extension in the background. The UW Extension is planning a move from the airport to Nicolet College. At an Oneida County administration committee meeting this week, the UW Extension committee chairman, Bob Mott, who also sits on the administration committee, said the move was planned for sometime in April, but that date was flexible.
Jamie Taylor/River News

This Friday, March 6 file photo depicts the exterior of the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport with a sign for the UW Extension in the background. The UW Extension is planning a move from the airport to Nicolet College. At an Oneida County administration committee meeting this week, the UW Extension committee chairman, Bob Mott, who also sits on the administration committee, said the move was planned for sometime in April, but that date was flexible.
3/14/2020 7:30:00 AM
With uncertain future, UW Extension proceeds with move to Nicolet College
As clouds hover, Oneida County ponders relocation logistics

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

Despite clouds hanging over its very existence in Oneida County, the UW Extension is carrying on with its business, and this year that business includes a move of its offices from the lower level of the Rhinelander-Oneida County airport to Nicolet College.

At a county administration committee meeting this week, the UW Extension committee chairman, Bob Mott, who also sits on the administration committee, said the move was planned for sometime in April, but that date was flexible.

Meanwhile, there are a number of preparations the county needs to make. One detail the committee discussed is something of a housekeeping move separate from the relocation, and that's giving area Extension director Steve Nelson the ability to sign off on various employee and budgeting matters, as other department heads do.

County finance director Darcy Smith said the authority needed to be formally given because Nelson is not a county employee, but there are county employees on staff.

"This is just a contract that the UW Extension is requesting to provide authority to a non-county employee to sign off on the time cards and also the entire budget process," Smith said. "He is treated as a department head, and department heads normally will sign off on time cards and have authority to do line-item transfers, and prepare the budget, and that's one piece that's been missing."

Nelson would also sign off on bills paid by the county, but the county committee of jurisdiction would still oversee and sign off on all those things, just as other committees of jurisdiction do. The committee approved the delegation of authority.

Airport lease

Perhaps the biggest matter of discussion with the relocation relates to the $40,000 the county pays for its lease with the airport for the lower level space. For one thing, there was some question as to whether the lease cancellation required 60 days notice or six-months notice.

In any case, committee chairman and county board chairman Dave Hintz said that, through the budgeting process, the intent has been to pay the lease through the end of the year regardless.

Supervisor Robb Jensen said the $40,000 was indeed committed for this year, but he also pointed out that the cost of the lease at Nicolet - $18,000 a year - would be paid by the UW Extension for this year, so the county is at no risk for 2020.

"The issue is going to be 2021, that if there is an $18,000 lease with Nicolet and we are committed to paying 40 at the airport, it's more of a 2021 impact," Jensen said.

Mott said he had spoken with airport manager Matt Leitner, who is looking for a tenant to replace the Extension, and Mott said he was hopeful that the county's cost would be alleviated by a new tenant.

Mott also said the cost of a new lease compared to the airport lease is a win-win in the long term.

"If you look at them separately, it's a very good deal," he said. "It's a good deal for us and it's a good deal for Nicolet."

Jensen said the county could only agree to a lease with Nicolet through the end of the year.

"We don't know about 2021," he said. "That will be part of the budgeting process."

Hintz said he agreed with that.

"We're talking about things we may have to cut for next year," he said. "I know that's [cutting UW Extension] not necessarily at the top of people's lists, but certainly it's in the top five."

Mott said that depended on which people you asked, and Hintz acknowledged that but said a cut to UW Extension was certainly under consideration.

"So I don't think we're ready to commit resources for 2021," he said.

Supervisor Billy Fried floated another option - he wondered if the airport space represented an opportunity for the county to use for something else, such as a business incubator.

Jensen raised the question about, if UW Extension had been cut this year, would the county still pay the $40,000 for 2020. The answer was yes.

"We have a continuing obligation for the $40,000," Mott replied.

Hintz agreed.

"At least for this year, we're behind that," he said. "We owe the $40,000."

As for the date of the lease cancellation, Mott said the date that had been talked about at the committee level was around the end of April, but it was still fluid.

"I know they have ordered furniture for out there," he said. "That's supposed to be coming in. We've talked about moving and how that is going to proceed. I don't know where that is at this point, but, as Robb [Jensen] said, it doesn't really matter because the $40,000 is going to go to the airport, so whether we are there or not there, it really doesn't matter."

Mott also said the Extension would not be taking any furniture with them.

"The furniture has been ordered to fill the space we have out there," he said. "I don't think anything is going to be taken from the airport."

Hintz said it was his understanding that Nicolet was buying new furniture for the UW Extension, and Mott said that's because Nicolet wants its offices to match.

"One of the things they said is that they don't want a hodgepodge of furniture," he said. "They want something that is suitable to the other kinds of furnishings that they have out there."

There is also the matter of the actual physical move, if not furniture then computer equipment and the like. Jensen observed that the county had budgeted $4,500 this year in buildings and grounds for rent to Nicolet that is now not needed, and perhaps that could pay for moving costs through a line-item transfer.

"We would need to utilize buildings and grounds to move computer equipment, the copier, the switches," IT director Jason Rhodes said. "Plus I'll have a consultant to redo the firewall. That's going to be four to five hours. Our guy would disconnect everything out there and get it ready to go, and we're hoping that buildings and grounds would be able to do the actual move and then we would connect it up again, just for the IT equipment and printers and copier."

Rhodes said the consulting would cost between $750 and $1,000, depending on whether everything went smoothly or not.

Buildings and Grounds director Lu Ann Brunette said her staff was occupied on major projects at the law enforcement center and having time for the move might be problematic. So movers might be needed.


There was also the matter of potential damage to workspace at the airport.

"Some of the work stations have damaged drywall," Brunette said.

There's a question of that cost, Brunette said, or if there is a new tenant and they reconfigure the space to suit the new tenant, does the county have to fix it so they can tear it apart. Brunette said the damage comes from workstations being affixed to walls, such as leg bolts going into walls.

"It's not a physical damage until you remove that furniture and equipment, and when that comes out you're going to have issues that have to be repaired," she said.

According to the lease agreement, Brunette said, the county is responsible for any damage.

Supervisor Ted Cushing said, given all the discussion, more specific dates were needed.

"There's a lot of balls in the air," Cushing said. "Are we moving on the 14th of April or the 15th? When do the computers have to be operating so you can have a simple transition to keep business flowing?"

Mott said the UW Extension committee would be having that discussion.

"Some of it is dependent on the furnishings coming in, the room being ready, and when IT can interface with what they are going to do," he said.

But Fried said a lot of things were coming into focus compared to where things were two months ago.

And so the committee fine-tuned questions for the UW Extension committee: When should the computers be set up? What does the lease with Nicolet look like? What might need to be moved from the airport? What is the cost of moving and what are potential alternatives for moving if buildings and grounds can't do the move? Does the Nicolet lease include IT costs?

At the end of the discussion, Mott returned to the county's obligation of $40,000 to the airport.

"The $40,000 arrangement is giving UW Extension a place, and has over time, to have their educators, and the agreement with the county is, the county - this county and any other county in the state - provides a place suitable for the educators and support staff. That's part of the contract."

If the lease was at some other privately leased building, the discussion about the $40,000 wouldn't be on the table, Mott said.

"Because then if they decided to move to someplace else, we don't pay the $40,000," he said. "Probably the county looked at this as a way to kill two birds with one stone - to provide the facility and also to support the airport. Again, had it not been at the airport, we would just stop the lease, go to a new spot, and be paying the $18,000."

Fried also said that, before giving notice, one more discussion should be held about whether the airport space has value the county isn't recognizing, for something such as a business incubator or some other project.

"I know just the ability to have meetings there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is a benefit to the county so we don't have to open up other buildings where meetings are requested after hours," he said. "Plus there may some other benefits."

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